25 September 2013

Wednesday Catechesis: Baptism, Part II

A reading from Mark 16:  And [Jesus] said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned."

This is the Word of The Lord. R.


What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are those words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

Hymn: 590 Baptized into Your Name Most Holy


The present tense is most striking. The Catechism does not ask concerning what Baptism once gave you; it asks concerning what benefits Baptism goes on giving you. Thus note all the present tenses:

Not, it worked forgiveness of sins (long ago), but it works forgiveness of sins (as in every single day!).

Not, it rescued you from death and the devil (long ago), but right now, today, it rescues you from death and the devil.

Not, it (once upon a time) gave you salvation, but even at this moment it gives salvation to all who believe this.

And even the promises of God aren't put in the past. Not as "the words and promises of God declared" back then when the apostles wrote them down, but "as the words and promises of God declare" this very minute of this very day into your ears: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." All this is vouchsafed by the FUTURE of that promise. Baptism goes on saving you until the end!

Now, it's very worthwhile to pick up the verse before in Mark as we heard in our reading, for this is the Marcan version of the so-called Great Commission or the Institution of the Office of the Ministry. Jesus is sending His apostles out with His authority to do His work. And that work is first and foremost "proclaiming the Gospel to the whole creation."

But what does that mean? I used to think that Jesus meant: first, go preach the gospel and then he added an attachment to the gospel, if you will, "whoever believes and is baptized, etc."

It was in studying Acts 8 that I realized how wrong I was. Have you ever thought your way through the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch? You remember. Just heading back from Jerusalem with his brand spanking new copy of Isaiah and he's reading it aloud (as all the ancients used to do) and puzzling his puzzler over what on earth is going on. Isaiah 53, remember. The Lamb led to the slaughter, silent before its shearers. What does it mean?

The Lord scoots Philip alongside the chariot to ask: "Do you understand what you're reading?" And the fellow is apparently so engrossed in trying to get it that he doesn't he really stop to question why there's a runner next to his chariot! "How can I unless someone guides me?" So he stops and Philip joins him and then it gets very, very interesting.

"Beginning from that passage he preached to him the good news, the Gospel, about Jesus."

And rather than us imagining exactly what it was that Philip preached, look at what happens next. Why! As soon as the Eunuch catches sight of water he screams for the chariot to stop, turns to Philip and asks: "Here is water! Why can't I be baptized?"

What, then, was the good news that Philip then preached out of Isaiah 53 to this man? Was it not the very promise that we heard in the reading today: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." For surely our Lord suffered on His cross as the innocent sufferer and died and rose again so that there might be opened for the house of David and all the families of the nations a fountain of healing water, a fountain of baptismal grace, where all His cross won would be lavishly poured out on sinful men - gratis, freely, unasked, unsought, unearned, just gift of eternal life. So the Gospel isn't the Gospel until it's anchored baptismally, and here the anchor isn't just for the past.

It's not as though Baptism took care of the sin and struggle in your life up to the point that you received it. If so, then old Tertullian was right: why waste it on a babe? Be like Emperor Constantine instead and gamble that you can get it on your deathbed. What a sad mistake! For Baptism, people loved by God, isn't a static bit of water, but an everflowing fountain of grace. It doesn't cease to pour out its gifts for you. Not til the day of grace has come to an end. It's gifts remain and they carry you through to the Kingdom.

Baptism's forgiveness will continue to cleanse your sin today. Its power continues to rescue you from death and the devil's clutches. Its virtue pours into you the gift of salvation that is forever. All yours. Signed, sealed and delivered by the Triune God, and the Holy Spirit in your heart whispering: Tis true! Believe it! It's all yours.

Lutherans are a baptismal people, no two ways about it. We're such because we know that the very promise of the Gospel itself is tied directly to the baptismal waters, water and blood flow together, and because we know that the grace of those waters cannot be exhausted by either our sin or our death and certainly not by the mere passage of time.

People loved by God, people baptized into Christ Jesus, treasure this mighty promise of God over your lives and don't let anyone rob you of it! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Unknown said...

Thanks for a wonderful homily on Baptism. I just wanted to add a few words about the Ethiopian eunuch. It is one of my favorite stories from the entire Bible. I think we have to assume that the eunuch was a long time follower of the God of Israel. This was probably not his first trip to Jerusalem. He knew Hebrew. Tradition dictated that one did not read Isaiah until one was familiar with the Pentateuch. He had probably wanted to become one of God’s people for a long time, but he had been told, and he had read it himself, Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.”
So when he asked Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” he had no clue about the proper period of time for catechumens before being baptized; he had no clue about how much one must know about the faith as an adult to be baptized; he wanted to know, “what in this new teaching will prevent me, a eunuch, from being baptized?” He did not know that just three chapters after what he was reading when he met Philip, he would find these words, Isaiah 56:4, “For this is what the LORD says: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant, to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.’” It was a long trip to Ethiopia, and surely he came to this passage soon after Philip left him. Then he knew, “it was not a dream”, the God Whom he loved had promised it Himself.
We cannot imagine what his rejoicing was like, when he finally joined “the assembly of the Lord”, the Kingdom of God, the Church. It had not been written down yet, but maybe in his soul he sang the equivalent of, “Nunc dimittis servum tuum in pacem …” Because finally his eyes had seen the salvation of the Lord.
In this way God taught the early Church that nobody was to be excluded from the Kingdom of God.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Good thoughts, George! Thanks.